Cracker Barrel to Market Smokey Robinson CD

For the first time, Cracker Barrel Old Country Store’s exclusive music program will feature an R&B artist: Smokey Robinson. Now and Then, a 12-song CD featuring classics and new songs by the Motown legend, will go on sale Nov. 1 and be available only at Cracker Barrel.

In addition to signaling the music program’s expansion beyond country and bluegrass, the move could mark a turning point in Cracker Barrel’s sometimes checkered relationship with the African-American community.

Following complaints that black patrons were seated in areas segregated from white customers and frequently received inferior service, the company settled a discrimination suit filed by the U.S. Department of Justice in 2004. Several months later, it was reported that the Lebanon, Tenn.-headquartered restaurant company had agreed to an $8.7 million settlement to resolve all racial discrimination lawsuits brought or supported by the NAACP.

“It’s time to change that imagery of Cracker Barrel,” Robinson said of his decision to partner with the restaurant chain. “I’m very happy to be the one breaking that ground with them. It’s progress.”

“Country and bluegrass are an important part of our music program, but it’s not the only part,” Cracker Barrel vp of marketing Peter Keiser added. “We have a broad customer base, and we want our music program to reflect that. What better way to diversify and reach that base than with Smokey Robinson? He is one of the best-loved figures in the history of popular music. His music and the Motown era were a great influence on our culture and helped shape who we are today.”

Six of the songs on Now and Then are live versions of Robinson’s best-loved classics recorded this year during various performances. The list includes ”The Tracks of My Tears,” ”Going to a Go-Go,” “I Second That Emotion” and ”The Tears of a Clown.” The other six tracks are culled from the singer-songwriter’s 2009 CD, Time Flies When You’re Having Fun. Those include “Time Flies,” ”Girlfriend” and a cover of Norah Jones’ “Don’t Know Why.” Now and Then will sell for $11.99.

Cracker Barrel is working in tandem with Time-Life to develop a broadcast component to complement the marketing campaign behind Now and Then. In conjunction with the CD’s Nov. 1 release, Robinson will launch a series of media appearances, with dates including Today, Fox & Friends, The Wendy Williams Show, ABC News, The Mo’Nique Show, AP Television, Sirius XM Radio and Good Day New York.

The release comes as Time-Life country and roots-music imprint Saguaro Road Records recently announced its own expansion into contemporary R&B.

Cracker Barrel operates 595 stores in 41 states, according to Keiser. Its exclusive music program was established in 2005 with a CD by Alison Krauss & Union Station.

Robinson’s Now and Then is the latest in a series of Cracker Barrel releases this year, including Rodney Atkins’ self-titled album, Craig Morgan’s That’s Why: The Collector’s Edition and others.